The amendment to the FY 2013 funding bill would require the secretary of state to submit a report to Congress on the number of Palestinian refugees who were displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, the number of descendants and the number of those receiving assistance from UNRWA.
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The legislation is led by Republican Senator Mark Kirk, who aims to examine how the number of refugees who receive aid grew from 750,000 in 1950 to 5 million today. Roughly a third of UNRWA's recipients live in camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
The bill also seeks to define how many generations of the original asylum seekers, many of whom have passed away, are to be considered refugees.
While the bill's primary goal is to cut US aid, the issue of whether to count refugees and their descendants is a divisive one. In the long run, the legislation would determine who is eligible for the right of return – a major bone of contention between Israel and the Palestinians.
Kirk claims that UNRWA, which is primarily funded by the US, perpetuates the refugee problem by extending the status to decedents who are no longer refugees.
In 1965, despite opposition from the US, the UN decided to in define as refugees the children and grandchildren of those who fled their homes in the years 1946-1949. A resolution from 1982 defines Palestinian refugees as those who have fled their homes and their decedents.
The Obama Administration, not unlike its predecessors, posits that the refugee issue must be addressed in a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians.
Deputy Secretary Thomas Nides wrote to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “This proposed amendment would be viewed around the world as the United States acting to prejudge and determine the outcome of this sensitive issue.”
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